Damaged homes along the foreshore of Collaroy Beach. Storms that battered Australia’s east coast are a harbinger of things to come and a stark reminder of the need of a national effort of the need to monitor the growing threat from climate change UNSW coastal researchers warn. “The damage we’ve seen is a harbinger of what’s to come,” said Ian Turner, Director of the Water Research Laboratory at the University of New South Wales. “Climate change is not only raising the oceans and threatening foreshores, but making our coastlines much more vulnerable to storm damage. What are king high tides today will be the norm within decades.”
Turner’s lab manages one of the world’s longest-running beach erosion research programs, at Collaroy and Narrabeen in Sydney, using drones, real-time satellite positioning, fixed cameras, and airborne LiDAR and quadbikes. The variability, changes and trends in coastal erosion at the beaches have been tracked since 1976.
But the data collected by the UNSW team is only reliable for modelling when it comes to predicting effects in southeastern Australia. For the vast bulk of Australia’s 25,760 km long coastline, researchers — and the governments and coastal communities they advise — are largely making guesses based on limited or non-existent data, say researchers.
“The wealth of data we’ve collected over decades makes our models of coastal variability increasingly more reliable — but only for a 500 km stretch of southeastern Australia,” Turner added. “But when it comes to modelling other parts of Australia, in many locations we are basically working blind.
The long-term data from the UNSW program has been crucial in understanding how climate change is changing Australia’s coasts, recently showing that El Niño and La Niña cycles will intensify coastal hazards, leading to changes in behaviour of storms, extreme coastal flooding and erosion in populated regions across the Pacific.
As a result, estimates of coastal vulnerability — which once focused on sea level rise — now have to factor in changing patterns of storm erosion, more intense storms, and other coastal effects.
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